Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 27

Human rights observance has deteriorated in Russia over the past two years, members of President Boris Yeltsin’s human rights commission told a Moscow press conference on Monday. (3) This seems to have been the swan-song of the independent commission, set up by President Yeltsin in 1993. So many of its original members have resigned recently that now it has virtually ceased to exist.

Presenting the commission’s report on the period 1994-95, former chairman Sergei Kovalev, who himself resigned two weeks ago, said democratic freedoms are coming under increasing attack in Russia. While there is a threat from fascist organizations and interethnic hostility, Kovalev identified the chief danger as the increasingly arbitrary exercise of state power. New police powers to tackle crime mean that citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of movement and freedom of speech are being whittled away, Kovalev said. He added that, while Russia’s 1993 constitution laid a good human rights groundwork, the absence of supporting legislation means that the rights proclaimed by the constitution are not adequately protected and enforced.

The commission reserved its main criticism for the state’s conduct in breakaway Chechnya where, it said, the authorities have demonstrated their readiness to use force regardless of the costs to human rights or lives.

Over the past year, the commission’s criticism of the war in Chechnya has provoked growing determination on the part of the presidential apparatus to bring the commission under control. Kovalev’s resignation in protest against the state’s "blood and lies" in Pervomaiskoye was followed Monday by the resignations of four other members, including Igor Golembiovsky, chief editor of Izvestiya, and Vyacheslav Bakhmin, the human rights activist who heads Moscow’s Open Society Foundation. This leaves only three members of the commission still in place.

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